West Bengal

The science behind Durga Puja or Navratri Rituals

So, Durga Puja or Navratri is knocking at our door. Are you excited? Yes, we all are. And why not? This is one of the biggest festivals of India and is the most important one for the Bengalis.

But have you ever thought that what actually is Navratri or Durga Puja?

Let’s take a look back at this point.


What actually is Navratri or Durga Puja?

Navratri or in full Sharad Navratri is a Sanskrit word meaning 9 nights in English. Basically it is a major festival in Hinduism held in the honour of divine feminine or Devi Shakti in Sanskrit. In some parts of India, especially in Bengal or in Assam, this festival is known as Durga puja, where Devi Durga is worshiped in her buffalo-demon Mahisasura slaying pose which symbolically represents win of good over evil.

In Bengal, people worship Devi Durga as Mother or Daughter and consider this time as her coming to parental home on earth from her bridal home in Mount Kailash and thus she arrives with her children Lord Ganesha, Lord Kartikeya, Devi Lakshmi and Devi Saraswati. Though Durga is worshipped in her demon-slaying pose, she is therefore seen with her children in the idol that is worshiped here. Loads of rituals take place during the five days of the actual Puja, extending from Sosthi (the sixth day of Navaratri) to Dashami (the tenth day, Vjayadashami or Dussehra).


When it is celebrated?

Navratri occurs for 9 days in the month of Ashvin which is generally the month of September-October in the Georgian calendar. It ends with the Dussehra or the Vijayadashami celebration on the 10th day. The festival is celebrated in various patterns in different parts of India. In some part, it is a time of religious reflection and fasting whereas in some other parts it is a time for dancing and feasting. But whatever the pattern is, these 9 days are dedicated to Devine feminine principle or Devi Shakti.


What are the rituals religious and social?

We have mentioned in part-1 that loads of rituals are performed during this festival. The main significance of Navratri or Durga Puja is celebrating the victory of good over evil and maintaining the spirit of joy and togetherness and that’s why there are some religious as well as social rituals that are performed during this time. First take a look at religious rituals. The prime religious rituals of Navratri are fasting, meditation, prayer, and mantra chanting.

As the pattern of celebrating Navratri or Durga Puja is different at different parts of India it is obvious that the religious rituals of Bengali Durga Puja differs in some ways as that of traditional Navratri. The major rituals that are performed in Durga Puja are Bodhan the invocation of Devi Durga.    

Nabapatrika Snan- bathing of Navapatrika in River Ganges. Navapatrika or nine leaves represents the nine forms of the female power Shakti – Brahmani (representing banana), Kalika (representing cola cassia), Durga (representing turmeric), Kartiki (representing jayanti), Shiva (representing wood apple), Raktadantika (representing pomegranate), Sokrahita (representing ashoka), Chamunda (representing arum) and Lakshmi (representing paddy).

Anjali- representing the worship or paying respect to Devi Durga.

Kumari Puja- Worshiping of a pre-pubescent girl as the living incarnation of Devi Durga.

Sanddhi Puja- denotes the juncture when Ashtami ends and beginning of Navami.

Sindoor Khela- where married women (but not widows) offer vermillion and sweets to the goddess. After that they smear each other with the vermillion.

Bisorjan- immersion of the idol of Devi Durga in the river, indicating her return to Mount Kailash.

The social rituals are mainly offering food to people, giving gifts to your loved ones, do some charity work, taking part in some cultural program, dances performed including Garba, especially in Gujarat.

In some parts of India, Dussehra is related to the victory of the Lord Rama over the demon-king Ravana. In North India, the play “Ram-Lila’ or the “Story of Rama” is performed during the festival. Athletic tournaments and hunting expeditions are often organized at this time. In many places people celebrate the occasion by creating bonfires and burning statues of Ravana stuffed with fireworks. It also symbolizes the win of good over evil.

Part 4

How people enjoy this at present time?

Currently, we get a long vacation of 5 consecutive days during this time. So, we are busy meeting with our friends and family, going for a tour or long drive, enjoy Pandal hopping, taking part in some cultural activities. Overall, we are busy enjoying our vacation and so, the religious significance of the festival has taken a back seat now.

Part 5

Are the rituals only superstitions or religious faith or there are some science behind?

We all now think that these religious rituals are purely superstitious beliefs and bears zero logical significance and have no science behind it. Many of us also believes that these are simply waste of time and we can utilize our time more effectively if we pay less attention to these rituals.

But have we ever though that is this true? Aren’t there some kind of logic behind all these rituals? It is a fact that Indian civilization is one of the oldest one in the world and this Puja has a long history that dates back to several thousands of years. India being a knowledge hub at that time our ancestors were wise and sensible. So, is it possible that they forget science and logic while writing or stating about these rituals? Let’s take a look back.

Part 6

The scientific reasons behind the rituals

Yes, it is absolutely baseless that there is zero logic or science behind these rituals. It is true that some rituals are purely superstitious but these are introduced later by some people like us who was obviously lesser knowledgeable than our ancestors. Let’s check.

First consider the scientific reason behind fasting at this time.

Navratri is observed twice a year, once in the beginning of summer and the other is in the beginning of winter. This Durga Puja or Sharad Navratri is celebrated in the beginning of winter, if you observe carefully it is a juncture of seasonal change. During this time our body’s immunity is in its all-time low and our bodies require purification this time to maintain a perfect balance of good and bad in our body. Eating high-energy foods at this particular time can lead to certain diseases. According to Ayurveda, eating foods like garlic, onion, meat, grains and eggs can attract the negative energies from the surroundings and can be a cause of diseases.

Again, scientifically, fasting is an effective way to burn away the toxins from the body and mind. Our current food habits consist of mainly non-veg and fast food items which is a prime reason of hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Staying away from certain types of foods for nine days will detoxify our body. Even if it is not possible for you to fast try to avoid heavy foods like meat, chicken, eggs, grains, spices, etc. for these nine days. Eating fruits and easy-to-digest food will prepare our digestive and immune system for the coming season much effectively. This procedure of staying with light food eliminates gas, lightens our body, improves mental clarity, and preserves overall health.

If you fast twice a year, you will experience that you can handle your life with more ease. During fasting, your digestive system is put to rest and in turn put the negative energies at the lowest and you can focus better on yourself. If you able to control your mind you can get rid of 10 evils of your life Lust, Anger, Greed, Attachment, Ego, Fear, Jealousy, Inertia, Hate and Guilty.

Next, consider the reason behind idol worship.

This was initiated to increase concentration during prayers. According to human psychology, a man will shape his thoughts as per what he sees. In India we respect our Parents, especially Mother above all. So, if we see her in front of us, it will be easy for us to concentrate and that’s the reason we consider the idol of Devi Durga as our Devine Mother.

Now we will look at the collective rituals that are performed during Puja. These are

Alankara- During puja the idols are ornate with fresh flowers. Flowers are a rich source of life or prana. In yogic term Prana means energy present in the natural elements. When you absorb this energy it contributes to your healthy living and peaceful mind.

Arti and Ghantanadam- Aarati is a crucial part of every Puja which is performed with brass lamps lit with oil. Oil when combusted generates ions. Specific oils generate specific ions, leading to specific benefits. This medical benefits take care of the regular health of people. Ghantanadam or the echoes of the bells create vibrations which clear negative energy and hence negative thoughts. Negative thoughts means devil. Thus ghantanadam repels the negative energy from the surroundings, clear our mind and help us stay sharp, keeping our full concentration. Moreover, the prayer bells are made in such a way that the sound generated from it creates unity in the left and right parts of our brains. The duration of the bell echo helps to activate all the seven healing centres in our body and thus clearing us of negativity.

Chanting Mantras- It is another essential part of the Puja. All our Mantras are written in Sanskrit a language which requires clear articulation. Clear articulation generates specific vibrations that impact the thought patterns in our head in a positive way.

Kumari Puja- This is done to respect the power of a woman. However, there is a common belief that only Brahmin girls can be worshipped as a tradition that was later introduced by Brahmin priests which has no logic behind. Interestingly, in 1898, Swami Vivekananda had worshiped a Muslim boatman’s daughter as Durga when he was in Kashmir during Durga Puja.

Prasadam- It is another essential part of Puja. When any food is served in a clean and clear place, it absorbs positive energy. Consuming this food generates prana and correct systems from inside.

Now, take a look at other rituals which are not directly related to Puja.

First we would like to mention the “Namaskar” or “Namste”

It is a typical Hindu gesture to show respect. There is a scientific reason behind the ‘Namaskar’. Joining both hands confirms touching the tips of all the fingers together, which are linked to the pressure points in the eyes, ears, and mind. Pressing them together is said to activate the said pressure points and helping us remember things for a long time.

Tilak- The spot between the eyebrows on our forehead is a major nerve point of our body. A tilak is believed to prevent the loss of energy and retain it to control various levels of concentration. Moreover, the act of applying these marks that the points on the mid-brow region and Adnya-chakra are pressed which facilitates the blood supply to the facial muscles.

Touching feet of elders- We know that the nerves coming out of the brain are present all over the body. These nerves end at the fingertips of hands and feet. So, when your fingertips touch the opposite feet of the elder, the energies of two bodies are connected. Fingers and palms become the receptor of energy and feet of another person as a giver of energy.

When you touch the feet of an elder then the elder accepts your respect and their heart emits positive vibes or thoughts and energy which reaches you through their hands and toes.

Part 7

How the modern society shifted from the ancient beliefs forgetting the science behind the rituals

Present days, Durga Puja means lots of fun, enjoyment, eating foods, and hanging around with near ones. Little do we know and have belief in the rituals. Most of the time we simply ignore them telling that these are old beliefs and has no logic behind them.

Though it is true that many rituals like killing animals, prohibiting women or girls to perform certain rituals, restrict them from chanting certain mantras, or only Brahmins are able to perform the Puja works have no basis and mostly introduced at a later time.

But there are many other rituals which have immense scientific significance which we forget completely as time passed by. Right now, we lead a busy and stressful life. Our food habit and lifestyle has shifted a lot from our ancient world. And due to this changed lifestyle we, the modern people often suffer from many physical and mental illness like depression, high blood pressure or blood sugar or even some cardiovascular diseases. It is true that we can’t maintain the same lifestyle nowadays which our ancestors used to lead but can maintain some of their daily practices without a lot of difficulties. Like I mentioned in part-3, avoiding certain foods during particular time of the year or performing some light exercises or meditation. Even though it is not possible for us to do strict fasting on a regular day to balance our work and life properly.

I personally believe that in ancient days religion was the backbone of our society and it was easy to make people understand some good practices with the help of religion and so, our wise ancestors develop these Puja rituals to keep us fit and fine. But as people moved ahead they slowly moulded religion in a way that only benefited their personal gaining. Thus the people residing on the top of society imposes some practices that prevents common people from knowing the actual facts of Puja rituals. Now, it is time for us to think logically and embrace the good practices that our ancestors used to follow earlier days.

What do you think about it? Please let me know in the comment section below.

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